Engaging this Messy World with the Wisdom of Non Attachment
History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. —Maya Angelou
Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be action. —Thich Nhat Hanh
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. —James Baldwin
Chan Master Yunmen, 9th century, when asked “What is the work of the Buddha’s whole life” replied, “An appropriate response.”
Do mindful awareness and the letting go of attachment make us incapable of being a happy human being with a personality, relationships, and responsibilities? Does non-attachment allow for a greater intimacy in life, or does it lead to a disconnection and distancing from life’s joys and sorrows? Do we need attachment in order to deeply care about and respond to the suffering we see and feel in and around us? Is our experience of non-attachment enlivening or deadening? The Buddha’s teachings point to a heart free from greed, anger and delusion—realizing a mind that is no longer governed and distorted by these deeply conditioned impersonal habits. How have we experienced non-attachment, or what Ajahn Chah called “the reality of non- grasping”? Do we see it as a true refuge for the heart?
We all know that it is not easy being a human being. With some practice we can begin to see more clearly that being attached to opinions and expectations results in the heart being uneasy and tight. The mind’s habit is to struggle with the conditions of life. It thinks that grasping and rejecting experience is functional and leads to happiness. Does it? Perhaps this pervasive habit of attachment is the source of all suffering. If this were seen to be true, wouldn’t we seek a way to be free from this pervasive habit? Seeing how attachment operates in our own mind breaks the heart open with compassion for all the suffering that this pattern sets in motion in the wider world.
Life demands both a whole- hearted engagement and an absence of attachment. What would be the alternative? Living our lives attached to half-hearted avoidance? Does anybody think that this is a winning strategy for a good life and a good world? Let’s remember, non- attachment is not the same as non- engagement. Non-attachment is only realized through engagement, being intimate. The relevant question is, will this way of relating and engaging cause suffering? When we are attached to keeping distant from messy parts and holding on to what we find pleasant, we lose our authentic connection with life as it is. Real freedom, wisdom and love are found in moments of fearless engagement with life through a mind free from attachment. We transform our hearts and the world by cultivating and living with this deep understanding.